“Last year I decided I was not going to fight against the wind. I had to change my golf game to it, and I started learning how to hit lower shots.”
If there is anyone in the College of Business who has learned the importance of adapting to whatever the conditions may be, it is Eemeli Jarvinen, 22, senior marketing major from Finland and member of the WT Men’s Golf Team. “My freshman year I decided I was going to just fight back. I was going to keep my game the exact same,” said.
But stubbornness, whether on the course or in business, is not a viable long-term strategy, and Jarvinen learned a very important lesson by virtue of sports metaphor. The 60-65 mph winds in a recent tournament provided yet another reminder. “There was one hole I drove 450 yards out of the box. Into the wind the same shot may go only 250 yards,” Jarvinen recalled. Now he knows to keep the ball low and out of the wind.
And it is a fitting metaphor of his four years at WT, interrupted by a global pandemic that found him unable to return home even if for a visit. He kept the ball low and plowed through the headwinds of adversity, mastering a language he had been taught since second grade, embracing cultural differences, and excelling in academics.
Oh, and on the golf course, too.
“My biggest achievement was winning an event in my junior year at Midwestern [University]. I won it in a playoff against two other guys. After three rounds (54 holes) we were tied,” he beamed. “It was sudden death, and I was able to clutch a birdie on the first playoff hole.”
He has not missed a tournament in four years, and came close to winning his competition at Amarillo Country Club. A year ago he was also chosen for second conference team, something he also a considers “a pretty big achievement.”
What drew Jarvinen to the US, and WT in particular, was the opportunity to combine sport and academics, something that is normally done in Europe. “It’s basically eight to nine hours of school every day, and no time for sport,” he said of the Finnish university experience. It’s also different in that undergraduate programs are typically three years of intense study, with no liberal arts component. If a person chooses sport, they do so at the expense of their education.
“There’s a very big chance to get a scholarship [coming here]. Usually, the benefit of getting international students is that they are committed,” he commented. This helps explain the international students on WT’s golf, soccer, and other athletic teams.
The Finnish education system teaches liberal arts primarily in high school, and so Jarvinen had to wait until his junior year to advance to the courses in his major. The first two years were beneficial in other ways, though. “It was more getting used to the culture. Once the junior year starts, it gets way more interesting and personal,” he added. Jarvinen also enjoyed the small size of WT, which allowed for him to take multiple courses from the same professor. He found the workload to be bearable, especially in light of his commitment to athletics.
Weather and culture were unexpected artifacts to understand. His home near Helsinki is at 60 degrees north latitude, while Canyon is just shy of 35 degrees. For him, 80 degree Fahrenheit is getting hot, but he admits to liking the relative tropics the Texas Panhandle provided him.
“I have never actually enjoyed winter myself. That’s why I am here. I prefer green over white.” Well, maybe yellow. It’s only green if it rains.
The wind, as any visitor of newcomer to the Panhandle quickly comes to know, is the dominant weather force, followed closely by frequent temperature spikes in both directions. If anything forged his steely resolve, it was the wind, and how it affected his game. “At first it’s very much like a negative reaction. You’re going to fight against it and you don’t care. You think your golf game will work anyway. But then you realize you have to adapt,” he philosophized.
The Panhandle is also a very extroverted region when it comes to human interaction. Whereas people in Finland seldom if ever engage in small talk, it is the norm, even an expectation, in this area. Passersby in Helsinki will avert their gaze so as not to make eye contact.
“People I had never met in my entire life, they would see me walking on the street and ask me how I was. I have never ever experienced this before. I didn’t know what to say,” he stated.
“Here it is the exact opposite. In west Texas people are very friendly. It took me a while to get used to it. Being here has changed how I behave, because I had to adapt to the culture.”
From types of food, to serving sizes in restaurants and the types of vehicles people drive, Jarvinen was confronted with many different nuances of American and West Texas culture. The relative scarcity of seafood on the High Plains is one thing, but the portions we serve in food as well as the means of conveyance are quite another. “In my entire life I have seen 10-20 pickup trucks in Finland. Here, you see 10-20 in two minutes.” But coming from a place where gas is currently more than $9 a gallon, that makes a lot of sense.
Everything truly is bigger in the US, and even more so in Texas.
Following graduation, he will take a short vacation in Miami, and then return to his homeland. He has a summer job lined up in sales for a consumer electronics chain, but also plans to hit the golf circuit hard. “I will play a full season, all the professional events I can play. If things go well, I will turn pro. If not, I still have a degree,” he explained.
Jarvinen admits in advance that he will miss WT and the friendly people. He realizes he may never pass this way again. The commitment to come to WT for four years was a sacrifice, but he has no regrets.
“You cannot get anything like this back home,” he concluded. And no charge on that little pearl of wisdom he picked up along the way. Adaptability is something you cannot buy, or learn from a text book. You learn it from experience.